Architects talk a lot about a building’s “skin,” but how literal could that idea someday become? TED recently posted a talk, “Metal that breathes,” by architect Doris Kim Sung, who describes a way to use bimetals—sheets of two metals fused together—to clad buildings in “architectural skins” that change shape in reaction to outside temperatures.
It’s a new and fascinating development in the “living architecture” movement that the Ideas section explored a couple of years ago. Sung is one of many cutting-edge architects, designers, and engineers around the world who are dreaming up buildings that themselves will be reactive to such external stimuli as heat, moisture, or light.
In her talk, Sung says that as she works to develop new building components for the market—in this case, a “smart” concrete block she is looking for inspiration to the grasshopper and its breathing pores, called spiracles, which open and close along the grasshopper’s abdomen to allow oxygen into its tracheal tubes. She illustrates the point by showing a portion of a concrete masonry wall perforated by openings lined with bimetals that, depending upon the temperature, either block or allow air to pass through.
Since her talk, Sung told Brainiac in an interview, the “Tracheolis” project has moved forward. “The part we’re working on is the tubing of the treachea. Next we’ll work on how to optimize the drawing in of the air.” She added that the holes, which will be visible on the interior walls of any room, needn’t be large. “We haven’t determined the scale of the holes—they can actually be extremely small, a quarter of inch in diameter. They could possibly even be nano, invisible to the naked eye.”
Without relying on controls or an external energy source such self-ventilating walls could be a way, Sung contends, to free people from reliance on mechanical systems, such as air-conditioning and the old-fashioned pores we call windows.
Photo: prototype of a two-foot concrete block with large "breathing" pores. Courtesy DOSU Architecture.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
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